Gaza, the Acid Test of Palestinian Leadership
By Mike Chimenti
"If you have two brothers put into a cage and deprive them of basic essential needs for life, they will fight."
- Ziad Abu Amr, Palestinian foreign minister, June 15th 2007
This quote from Ziad Abu Amr came one day after Hamas, the party which forms the democratically elected government of Palestine, declared that they had taken over full control of the Gaza Strip from their political rivals, Fatah. This battle for control marked the turning point in the struggle between Hamas and Fatah which had resulted in a continually escalating series of armed skirmishes and battles throughout Gaza.
Underpinning the struggle between these two political factions was Hamas’ January 25th 2006 victory in the Palestinian elections which saw Fatah dethroned from the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. This showed the world that Palestinians had had enough of Fatah’s corruption and inability to bring about any beneficial change for Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Almost immediately Israel refused to acknowledge the election results and the new Palestinian government, imposing sanctions against Hamas (and all Palestinians), withholding hundreds of millions in Palestinian tax revenues. This move was quickly followed by Canada, and then the United States, which both refused to recognize legitimate Hamas government and suspended all financial aid to Palestine. These moves by Israel and its western puppet masters were designed to bring about complete financial destruction in Palestine and force the Palestinian population to rescind their votes for Hamas. This meant accepting that Israel and North American imperialism would use the Oslo Accords to decide what type of government Palestinians should have.
From the Nakba to Oslo
“[Israel] must see the sword as the main, if not the only, instrument with which to keep its morale high and retain its moral tension. Toward this end it may, no –it must- invent dangers, and to do this it must adopt the method of provocation-and-revenge… And above all-let us hope for a new war with the Arab countries, so that we may finally get rid of our troubles and acquire our space.”
- Moshe Sharatt , Former Israeli Prime Minister, quoting former Israeli Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan.
On November 29th 1947, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181, the Palestine Partition Plan, which divided British Mandated Palestine along ethnic lines, allocating 48% of Palestine for Palestinians and 52% for Jews. The world was soon shown that this amount of land would not be enough to satisfy the colonial dreams of the Zionists and their imperialist backers, and on May 14th 1948, the sovereign state of Israel was proclaimed. Immediately, the Stern Gang and the Irgun Militia (the para-military terrorist groups that were eventually turned into the IDF) began a system of terror and occupation that destroyed 450 villages, and forced 800,000 Palestinians to flee from their homes to other villages and makeshift refugee camps. This event, al Nakba (the catastrophe) began the system of war, colonization, occupation and apartheid that is the basis for the existence of Israel.
In October of 1956, Israel, along with the UK and France attacked Egypt. Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal as part of a soon to fail plan to take back the recently nationalized Suez Canal from Nasser’s Egyptian government. Israel, the UK and France were forced by the UN General Assembly and the introduction of a UN military force, to leave the areas they had occupied.
In 1967, Israel again felt colonial growing pains and extended its occupation, for the second time, into the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, as well as conquering the Golan Heights from Syria. In the course of 6 days, Israel had effectively doubled the size of the area under its control.
On October 6th (Yom Kippur) 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in an attempt to take back the territory they had lost to Israel in the 1967 war. Israel initially suffered severe losses of troops and ground, but maintained their illegal occupations due to an Egyptian betrayal. During this war Israeli General Moshe Dayan considered the use of the “Samson Option”, deploying nuclear weapons to the battlefield.
As a result of Israel’s near defeat, the US quadrupled its military aid to Israel. The Israeli government in turn used this money to help fund the Israeli settler movement which gained massive support following the war.
In June of 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, encircling Beirut, and forcing Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization, which had been launching attacks and raids against Israel from refugee camps in Lebanon, to flee Lebanon for Syria.
In late 1987, Palestinians, both inside and outside the Palestinian territories, launched the 1st Intifada (uprising) against Israel. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) killed at least 230 Palestinians within the first 6 months, most of them stone throwing children.
Since the day that the UN partitioned Palestine and set the stage for the worlds longest ongoing conflict, dozens of ceasefires, diplomatic accords and peace plans have been put forward by both Arab and Western countries alike.
In September of 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed on the front lawn of the White House while Bill Clinton smiled as Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands. The Oslo Accords were heralded as the coming peaceful resolution to the “Arab-Israeli” conflict and the victory of the “Two State Solution”.
The Accords called for the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and created the Palestinian Authority as the form of Palestinian self government. The PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist, renounced violence and ended its call for the destruction of Israel. In turn, Israel recognized the PLO as the “legitimate” representative of Palestinians.
Oslo Accords Fail
“On 29 January we received a draft statement prepared by the US that would have had the Quartet, in effect, decide to review all assistance to the new PA government unless its members adhered to three principles: non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map.”
– Alvaro de Soto, End of Mission Report.
It is the articles of the Accords quoted above that Israel has used since the election of Hamas to divide the Palestinians along factional lines. Since their election, Israel has refused to acknowledge Hamas as a legitimate government and demands that Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. At the same time, Israel continues to deal with Fatah (and vice versa), both of which manoeuvre against Hamas.
Israel, and their ally, Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, have been trying since the election of Hamas to roll back the clock to the “good old days” when Fatah was the only game in town, and Israel could be assured that the “legitimate” representative of the Palestinian people would maintain “business as usual” within the occupied territories.
On June 13th 2007, a confidential United Nations (UN) Report, written by Alvaro de Soto, the former UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, was published by The Guardian.
According to de Soto “toward the beginning of the summer of 2006, advisers close to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] set in motion an initiative whose purpose - as underscored to us privately - was to bring about the untimely demise of the PA government led by Hamas, through the convening of a referendum to ratify the adherence of the Palestinians to Abu Mazen's programme of negotiating a two state solution in accordance with the Oslo Accords and the commitments entered by the PLO.”
The problem, for Fatah and Israel, is that the Palestinian people saw that Hamas had the potential to represent the interests of everyday Palestinians confined to the open air prison of Gaza, or locked behind the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank. In the municipal elections that Hamas had won, Palestinians could see that corruption was down and that everyday services were run more effectively. Add to that the social and education services of Hamas, run separately from the government, a commitment to use “all forms of resistance” to Israeli occupation, and a refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and it becomes clear that Palestinians see in Hamas what they once saw in the Fatah led PLO – a legitimate form of organized resistance.
Almost immediately after Hamas’ victory, Abbas and Fatah began trying to co-opt Hamas, believing their rival would acquiesce to the status-quo and be absorbed and subsumed under the PLO umbrella. Over the course of several months it became clear to Fatah and the rest of the world that this would not happen.
Mahmoud Abbas’ Way for Democracy
“It’s my right to dissolve the government, and I can do it whenever I please. Hamas does no scare us when they say it’s a precursor for a civil war. It’s my constitutional right."
– Mahmoud Abbas, December 16th 2006
On December 15th 2006, Palestinian Security Forces, comprised mainly of Fatah members and still under the control of Fatah, opened fire on a Hamas rally in Ramallah. The next day, in an obvious move to scuttle the government, Abbas called for early elections in Palestine, less than one year into Hamas’ 4 year mandate.
In the face of these divisive moves, inter-factional fighting became commonplace throughout the occupied territories, with the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN) calling on Hamas to renounce terror and end the fighting in Palestine. All the while, Israel continued to expand its settlements in the West Bank while extending the Apartheid Wall, annexing ever more of the meagre fraction of land left to Palestinians.
In February, it seemed that Hamas and Fatah may have begun to find common ground as it was announced that both sides were meeting in Mecca to establish a ceasefire and lay the foundation for a National Unity Government (NUG).
The NUG agreement announced on March 17th displayed a detailed plan of how both parties would share power within the parliament, which Ministries would be assigned to each party, etc. But the real weight of the platform was clearly held by Hamas, as the NUG platform includes articles maintaining the legitimate right of Palestinians to use “all forms of resistance”, denial of Israel’s right to exist, and the formal acknowledgement and demand of the right of return.
Israel, seeing that their Fatah ally could not co-opt Hamas as hoped, began a new wave of air strikes in Gaza, targeting Hamas buildings and compounds. On May 24th Israel stepped up the assault, ordering ground forces in the West Bank to arrest more than 30 Hamas Ministers and Members of Parliament. 48 hours later, IDF troops arrested the Minister of State, Wasif Kabba, claiming that as long as Hamas rockets were fired into Israel, all sections of Hamas, political and military, would be targeted.
In the last 2 weeks of May, Israel launched 60 air raids, killing 50 Palestinians and driving the leadership of Hamas into hiding. Amid the ongoing crisis, Israelis and Palestinians joined forces on June 5th to protest the 40th anniversary of Israel’s illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
By the second week of June, the battle for the fate of the Palestinian Authority had reached an unprecedented scale, as Hamas began to take control of the Gaza Strip and of Fatah’s buildings and compounds. On June 12th, Hamas took 500 Fatah members prisoner after battling for control of Fatah headquarters in Gaza City, all of them later freed by a unilateral Hamas amnesty on June 15th.
On June 14th, Abbas, in a last ditch effort to hold onto Fatah’s only power base – the West Bank – formally dissolved the Palestinian Authority government and declared a “State of Emergency” in Palestine, ruling by decree. The following day the IDF sealed off Gaza, closing all borders and cutting off food and fuel supplies to the close to 1.5 million refugees trapped inside.
The day before Abbas’ 13 member emergency cabinet was sworn in, the US announced that they would lift the sanctions they had imposed on the Palestinian government. The day after the emergency cabinet had been sworn in, on June 18th Olmert met with George Bush in Washington, where they both pledged to support Abbas and Fatah, making it clear that their goal is to isolate Hamas until they collapse, regardless of the consequences for the masses of Palestinians who want nothing more than to be able to return to their land and live in peace.
At a summit in Cairo on June 25th organized as a regional show of force against Palestinian self-determination, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah, and Mahmoud Abbas discussed the next stage for the emergency Palestinian government.
Olmert pledged to release 250 Palestinian prisoners, all members of Fatah, and to release hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Palestinian tax transfers to Abbas in a blatant attempt to keep the stuffing in his favourite puppet. All of these are clear signs that Israel, and the pro-Israel, pro-Western Arab countries will refuse to acknowledge the Palestinian voice of self-determination, unless it sings a song that soothes the ears of the Israeli Zionists and their imperialist allies. A song that 60 years of occupation has not been able to force the Palestinians to write, or sing.
One State Solution is the only Solution!
One Person One Vote in all Historic Palestine!
Israel Hands Off Gaza! Stop Killing Palestinians!
Back to Article Listing